10 amazing zipper facts you didn't know you wanted to know

A humble zipper.

  1. Zippers are big business. According to Global Industry Analysts, the global market for zippers is estimated at $8.2 billion in 2013 and is expected to hit $11.7 billion by 2018.
  2. YKK has the industry all zipped up: The company accounts for 46 percent of the global zipper market.
  3. There are 4.5 billion zippers of all kinds consumed in the U.S. per year. That's 14 zippers for every American per year.
  4. Every year, YKK produces enough zippers to wrap around the world 50 times. That's 1.2 million miles of zippers! The national Manufacturing Center of YKK in Macon, Georgia produces around 65,000 miles of those zippers annually.
  5. YKK makes airtight zippers for spacesuits, flame retardant zippers for fire suits, airtight zippers for bagpipes and zippers for fish farm nets. In fact, on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong took "one giant leap for man kind" as the first man on the moon, guess what zipper kept his suit on? You guessed it - YKK.
  6. You can find YKK factories in in 71 countries. The company makes zippers in 9,500 colors and has 20 shades of black in its color library.
  7. YKK gets a shoutout in Outkast's hit song, "So Fresh and So Clean." Check it out. Fast forward to 1:30 if you're impatient.

  8. Counterfeit zippers are big business: YKK says it gets a call a day from U.S. Customs about potential fakes.
  9. There are between 15 and 50 steps to make each YKK zipper. The company does everything themselves, starting with the melting of their own copper.
  10. Frustrated with a fabric hungry zipper? YKK has official steps on how to un-stick that zipper so you don't have to take that hoodie off over your head.

How the zipper was born

There are several men responsible for the evolution of the zipper:

Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine, patented the "Automatic, continuous clothing closure" in 1851 — but it didn't look a whole lot like the zippers of today.

A guy named Whitcomb Judson tried his hand at what he called a "Clasp Locker" more than 40 years later. He debuted his creation at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

But the zipper as we know it wasn't popularized until 1913, when an engineer named Gideon Sundback perfected the previous designs for his "Seperable Fastener." The military started using the technology for flying suits and money belts, and then B.F. Goodrich put one on a new pair of boots in the 1920s.

It's said that a Goodrich executive coined the phrase “Zip 'er up,” echoing the sound made by Sundback's invention, and the name zipper was born.

Want to know even more about zippers? May we suggest Zipper: An Exporation in Novelty. Have a question of your own you'd like answered on "I've always wondered...?" Send 'em over.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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